Looking forward to the holidays? So are the scammers. Connecticut Better Business Bureau is warning holiday shoppers and donors to look the red flags and to be on their guard.
Unfortunately, as consumers make their lists of holiday gifts and charity donations, unscrupulous online scammers, petty thieves, dishonest sellers and disreputable businesses are gearing-up to deck the halls with their tried and true holiday scams.
Every year, thousands of shoppers fall victim to the holiday deals that seem too good to be true and lose money to bogus charity pleas that pull at the heart strings.
This holiday season, Connecticut BBB urges consumers to take the following tips into consideration before doing their holiday shopping and making charity donations:
- If you shop Craigslist or other free online bulletin board sites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable meeting the seller alone. Never wire money to a stranger as payment. If you’re shopping on an auction site, look at seller ratings and read their reviews. Don’t buy if the deal sounds too good to be true. (A St. Louis woman in reported last month that she lost $1,800 to a Craigslist scammer offering a Nissan Altima for sale)
- Beware of websites selling knockoff jewelry, clothing and accessories, usually at prices well below the market price. Most of these businesses operate outside the U.S., and exchanges or refunds can prove difficult if not impossible.
- Steer clear of sites selling a variety of electronic items, again at deeply reduced prices. Often operating out of China, these scammers sometimes ship poor quality items or nothing at all.
- There are Internet sites selling fake sports and celebrity autographs and other memorabilia. Craigslist listings offering new or used items at attractive prices. Often, these thieves ask for payment via difficult-to-trace methods such as Western Union wire transfers or Green Dot Moneypak cards, and then never send the items.
- Don’t let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet — Remember the low-tech forms of crime. While you’re struggling with bags of presents, thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers. Know where your cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your PIN while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.
- Always research charities with BBB before you give to see if the charity meets BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability — The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Beware of solicitations from charities that don’t necessarily deliver on their promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on their plans. Resist requests for on-the-spot donations. Up-to-date reports on local and national charities are available at www.give.org.
- Don’t click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious — Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to obtain your personal information or break into your computer. Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS or FedEx with links to package tracking information. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also, beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.
Always check a business’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org before making a purchase in a store or online. Make sure that the company has a physical address and telephone number. When shopping online, some websites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a “great deal” online, but received little or nothing in return.
For more holiday tips that you can trust, visit the “For Consumers” pages at bbb.org.